Dale Yu: Review of Starship Captains

Starship Captains

  • Designer: Peter B. Hoffgaard
  • Publisher: Czech Games Edition
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 12+
  • Time: 25min/player
  • Played with review copy provided by publisher at SPIEL 2022

starship captains

Welcome aboard and congrats on the promotion! Your “new” starship is ready to embark on its first big voyage. Just scrape off some of the rust, and she’ll do fine. And that crew? Might look a little green around the edges, but they’re your crew now. Make us proud. The stars are calling…and adventure awaits! As newly promoted Starship Captains, players are in command of their first starship and hungry to prove themselves in a galaxy full of space pirates, grumpy old androids, ancient artifacts, and interplanetary adventures.

In this 1-4 player Eurostyle game, which mixes action selection and engine building, you’ll manage a diverse crew of cadets, ensigns, androids, and officers — each with different special roles and capabilities. By earning medals, you can promote and train your crew for even greater effectiveness. Similarly, you can upgrade your ship with powerful engine building technology for maximum synergy. What will you do with this enhanced crew and ship? Explore an ever-shifting galaxy full of dangerous pirates and interplanetary missions in order to boost your reputation with three distinct galactic factions for bountiful rewards. Do you have what it takes to deftly command your crew and become the best captain in the cosmos? We’ll see!


The main board, which shows a portion of the galaxy, is placed on the board; and each planet is seeded with a triangle tile – which in turn will tell you whether a mission card or space station go there.  Each player’s ship starts on the home station.  There are paths between the planets; some will start with pirate ships on them. A display of tech cards is made at the bottom.  The three faction tracks are placed nearby, with the side up being chosen at random; each gets an event card on it.  Each player puts a marker on the start space of each faction.  Players have their own board which looks like a ship.  At the bottom of the ship, there are slots for cargo, and next to that is a board to hold your tech.  There is a ready room area for crew members and then a curvy waiting line that serves as a crew queue. 

You start with 2 crew of each color and a grey cadet.  You can train your crew during the game for 1 medal (the grey cadet can become red/yellow/blue) or you can retrain an ensign to change its color for 1 medal.  You can also promote a regular crew to become a commander for 3 medals; put a ring around the base.  You are limited to 5 commanders, and you can’t change the color of a commander.  Commanders can either do extra work (activate a second room or repeat a line of a mission card) or command a subordinate (move a cadet / same colored crew from the queue to the ready room).  Along the way, you might also pick up some androids who are temporary crew members; they only work on missions but they match all colors – but then they leave your service and go back to the supply.


On a turn, a player has three options: activate a room, complete a mission, or pass.

To Activate a Room – Select a room and take a figure of matching color from your ready room. (Note that every color can activate a grey room.)  Put the crew member in the back of the queue and then resolve all the effects in said room.  It is also possible to activate a room by discarding two artifacts that have the color of the room on them.

There are 4 basic room types: red (move the ship), yellow (fight pirates), blue (take techs), grey (repair your ship).   There are some slight differences to particular actions; look at the icons carefully – but in general:  

  • Red Room (no, not that kind of Red Room) – This is the Helm, and activating it gives you movement.  Regular moves go along the quotes of the board.  If you move along a route with a pirate, you take a damage – always placed in one of your cargo holds.  You might also get a jump which allows you to place your ship anywhere on the board.  If you end on a station, you can perform all the actions shown on the station tile.  If you end up on a mission, you’ll be ready to do it on a later action.  The first person to a mission (or to a planet where a mission later pops up) has priority to do that mission…
  • Grey Room (repairs) – when you take damage, it goes in a cargo slot. If you don’t have an empty slot, you have to discard cargo to take on the damage.  When you activate the grey room, you remove 1 damage token.   Some tech slots start with damage, you have to repair them to increase your tech capacity; but you will never place any more damage on your tech board.
  • Yellow Room (fight pirates) – choose a pirate on any route adjacent to you, take a damage, take the pirate token and the rewards printed on it and all these things to your ship.  
  • Blue Room (research tech) – take a tech card from the display.  Some techs act as rooms, others give ongoing effects and others provide end game scoring opportunities.  You take a card and place it in an empty tech slot.  There are some icons on the sides of the card, if you get a pair of icons together, you also get that as a bonus (1 repair, 1 move or 1 medal)


To compete a mission – well, you have to be at a mission and have priority to do it (have been the first one at that location).  Take the card and put it next to the purple slot. Move one crew from your ready room to each line on the card.  Then, resolve the card from top to bottom -if the figure matching the color of the line, do all the icons. If the figure does not match or you want to ignore anything on the line, skip the whole thing.  Put the crew members into the queue as they are used. Flip the mission card over, you will score it at the end of the game.


When the mission is done, take the highest numbered triangle tile and move it to your location, placing it facedown. Deal a new mission card to the newly emptied spot.  If you place the 1 tile, there is a pirate uprising. Put a pirate at each planet with a triangle, then place the pirate on a route that matches what is on the tile.  Then place all the tiles number side up and start the pirate countdown over.

As you are taking actions, you will also earn moves on the three faction tracks. You will score points based on your overall progress on the track, and you can also gain bonuses as you reach certain spaces.  On each of the tracks is an event card, which is triggered when someone gets to the 3pt region first.  The event affects all players and is immediately resolved.  Though there are three tracks, only two events will ever happen in a game; once the 2nd event is triggered, discard the event on the remaining track.

Your third option is to pass. You can choose to do this or you could be forced to do this if you have no crew in your ready room (because then you can’t do anything).  The rules tell you that it’s rarely a good idea to leave a commander or an ensign in the ready room.  Once you pass, you are done for the round.  Go get a drink or hit the little Starship Captain’s room.  When everyone passes, the round is over.


When the round ends, all players slide the figures around in the queue until only three figures remain in line; the rest go into the ready room.  Players will get tokens or figures at the start of rounds 2/3/4.  If there are station tiles on the round track, place them on the board if the station is empty; otherwise place the tile on the next round space.  Finally, pass the starting player marker and repeat.

The game is played over four rounds, and you tally your score at this time:

  • VP from mission cards
  • VP for progress on the faction tracks
  • VP from Omega tech tiles
  • 1VP per commander/android/pirate token on your ship
  • ½ VP per medal and artifact left on your ship
  • -1VP per damage on your ship

The player with the most points wins. No tiebreaker is listed in the rules.


My thoughts on the game

Starship Captains is a highly anticipated game around here; ever since we got teasers of it at GenCon 2022, we’ve all been waiting to play it in my local group.   The whole idea of using different colored crew members for different colored actions was intriguing; and man, we all wanted to see how the queue system worked in the spaceship shaped player board!


In a good sense, I never know what to expect from CGE – their games literally run the gamut of style, theme, and complexity – and I was hoping that this game would fall in my sweet spot; that is, a nice Eurogame around an hour in length.  And, that’s exactly what I got!  If you’re looking for the next Dungeon Petz or Alchemists; this may be a bit on the light side…  

Here, you’re trying to guide your ship around the galaxy, completing missions and beating up pirates for points.  It would also behoove you to clean up and repair your ship as you fly around as apparently there is a ship beauty contest at the end of the game, and you’ll do better with fewer blemishes.  Finally, make sure you interact with the three main factions in the galaxy; you can’t ignore them either.

The way that you use the workers is interesting, though I wish that the four basic rooms in your ship were a bit larger and included icon reminders of what you would do in each room.  But, the four basic actions are pretty simple so maybe they felt that people would remember them without too much issue.   

There is definitely some “crew-building” going on here; you can spend medals to change uniforms in order to get the right colored people for the jobs you want done.  You also get the opportunity to train the grey recruits into the sort of people you need.  Finally, when you promote someone, they can possibly take double actions for you, or they can help you pull people out of line to work now instead of waiting for next round.


And, while I’m thinking about the line; it’s an interesting idea, but one that doesn’t affect the game as much as I thought it would.  When I first saw the prototype of the game, I thought that this would be a focus on the game.  While it does keep your used crew members in order; you essentially just dump everyone into the ready room except for the last 3 people in line.  Sure, there are still times you wish you could have one of those last 3 now (and if so, you can still pull them out of line with your commanders) – but on the whole, you just flush your line of crew people into the ready room.

The missions seem to provide much of the points in the game, and depending on the different lines on the card, there are times when you actually don’t want to have the right people for each line (or it doesn’t matter enough to have them).  In the end, you’ll score the points just by committing the right number of crew members (or androids) to the card.  While the bonuses for each line are nice; sometimes they come with damage (which might force you to empty out a cargo bay), or sometimes you can’t hold the bonus, or maybe it just isn’t worth the work to get the right colored crew member ready for the mission…

But, for me, I try to get as many of the rewards as I can – especially the medals and artifacts.   The artifacts will generally lead to extra actions that do not require crew members.   Medals are exceedingly useful for promoting crew members or getting them to change colors.  There are only four rounds, and you really don’t have that many crew members; so each additional action or desired action over a placeholder is a huge boon.  Sure, they’re also worth points at the end of the game, but I think they are more valuable to be used in the run of play as opposed to the consolation bonus you get from having them unused at the end.

The tech cards are certainly powerful, and I would not recommend ignoring them.  Additionally, there are a limited number of Omega Techs (these provide end game bonuses), so if you want one of these, you might have to make a decision to grab one early.  In my last game, I went ahead and took one right at the start of the game, and then once I had the bonus in my possession, I shaped the rest of my game to try to meet the criteria of my bonus card.  Interestingly, the number of omega tech cards available does not scale for player count, so it is quite possible that you don’t get one if you wait too long.  Heck, it’s possible for a single player to take them all if his opponents allow!  As far as the regular tech cards go – they don’t seem particularly balanced; some feel way better than others.  Just keep your eye on the cards and if one seems quite good; you just have to go snatch it away from your opponents before they grab it.

As with everything else in the game; this is the main interaction between players.  There is no direct conflict.  You are in a sort of race of parking on planets or for the tech cards in the display; but otherwise, you’re left to fiddle with your brightly colored crewpeople on your own ship.   As a result, you can plan much of your next action while other people are doing theirs; and this keeps the game moving along quickly.   As you generally only do one action at a time, there is just enough downtime for you to look around and figure out what you want to do next by the time your turn comes back up.

All of the actions and missions are on point with the theme.  It appears that this is a thinly veiled Star Trek homage; though the Red crew members here don’t die after each action.   The artwork is well done, and I really like the 2 level spaceship boards as well.  The artwork on the mission cards is gorgeous.  The only part of the art that has needed mild explanation is that a few of the gamers didn’t see the different colored tracks on the pirate chits; but once pointed out, it was never a problem afterwards.

Spaceship Captains is a fun romp through outer space.  The game does appear to offer a few different paths to points, and you can definitely do a little bit of each as you go.  It’s a nice tight Eurogame where you stratify your action choices to do things in the most efficient manner possible.  Our games are coming in just over an hour now, and this is a good speed for the game as you prepare to go to Infinity and Beyond.  Wait a minute, that didn’t sound right… Just enjoy the game, and Never Give Up, Never Surrender, Live Long and Prosper, and may the Schwartz be with you.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Ben B: The game plays heavily on the theme and efficient play.  It’s tight and crunchy but I was left rather disappointed. It didn’t feel very fun and it is a tad simpler gameplay than I would normally seek out. (1 play).

Simon N: Being a lifelong Star Trek fan, I was really excited to pick up Starship Captains at Essen Spiel. The artwork makes it obvious that it is Star Trek in everything but name. The closest the gameplay comes to Star Trek however is the value in completing missions which can drive a lot of victory points. As has been mentioned the game is straight forward and fast playing, so those looking for a more complex game may be somewhat disappointed. For myself, it means the game is likely to get more plays at family sessions where it shines.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it!  Larry L

I like it. Dale Y., Simon N.,

Neutral. Ben B., John P

Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Essen 2022, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Starship Captains

  1. Larry Levy says:

    This does a great job of conjuring up a Star Trek vibe without it in any way aping the different series or movies. It’s just a lot of fun and CGE did their usual excellent job of making the theme funny and immersive. Your different crew members each have different specialties and you have to balance that with acquiring tech and accomplishing missions. It’s a nice puzzly challenge, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming. The central concepts are innovative, but not staggeringly so, which fits the tone of the game well. There’s also a little bit of player interaction. So a good game with solid mechanics, but it’s the way the theme is implemented that really sells it for me.

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